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let's look at the Psychopathology of Being Held Hostage.
hostage experience differs from either prisoner of war or concentration camp experiences
in several ways.
further examine PTSD resulting from terrorism and other traumas, let us examine
the psychological state of the fourteen correctional officers held hostage during the worst prison riot in U.S. history. As this case study in terrorism
is detailed, ask yourself if one of the hostages were to become my patient or
client, what specific interventions would I use, and how would these interventions
differ or be the same from interventions I have used with other victims of violent
crimes I have treated? What would my body language be like?As you listen to this
case study, also ask yourself what ethical issues might arise?
The correctional officers examined were all Spanish-Americans who ranged in age from eighteen to fifty-four years.
Lets examine the psychological state of the correctional officers who felt a combination of feelings of helplessness, existential fear, and sensory input overload. Let us look at these three, more specifically, in terms of the DSM classification of PTSD.
Challenge #1 - Helplessness
Total and profound helplessness was felt by all the hostages. This feeling was reinforced, in certain cases, when the guards were bound hand and foot and blindfolded. They quickly learned that there was nothing that they could do. If they complained in any way, they were bound more tightly or beaten severely. Those who were blindfolded had no way of knowing when or from where the next physical assault might come. The feeling of helplessness was emphasized by their separation from their fellow officers.
One guard thought of escape during his first hour of captivity. But when he heard some inmates kill another inmate in the cell adjacent to where he was being held, he gave up the idea in total hopelessness. Two guards who were beaten early during their captivity stated that the feeling of helplessness came to them almost immediately. One guard, who remained in hiding throughout the riot, felt trapped and helpless when he heard the inmates searching for him.
None of the officers could offer any resistance. However, being totally helpless had some positive aspects. Even under extreme provocation and abuse, the guards did not reveal certain information; they recognized that doing so would make no difference in their fate. One hostage, who was severely beaten, emphasized that he tried to keep calm.
At times he thought he was lucky that he was being hit rather than being stabbed. He took all of the blows and realized that he could not fight back, so he tried to remain calm. Another officer, who said that he felt like a helpless lame duck, recalled that a member of the execution squad praised him for calmness. The inmate then told the officer that he had a ninety-nine percent chance of not getting out of the penitentiary alive. His state of helplessness contributed to what appeared to be a stoical attitude.
As you know in skyjackings connected with and following September 11th, the helplessness of many passengers has been replaced by individual acts of heroism.
Challenge #2 - Existential
The inmates themselves became afraid, too, and gave the hostages clubs; they told them, If we have to bump heads, well need your help. A new wave of existential fear for existence engulfed both the hostages and their inmate-guards with each visit from the execution squads. Existential fear may be a good descriptor for the feelings experienced by skyjacking passengers.
This frightening situation was reinforced by the prisoners repeated threats to kill the guards. Threats and evidence of physical violence and chaos of the situation reinforced the hostages fear. Take a minute now to recall a PTSD patient whom you have treated.
Ask yourself what was the fear component of their syndrome, and how did the extent of their fear affect their treatment? Would the term existential fear apply?
Challenge #3 - Sensory
None of the guards became accustomed to this sensory overload. Each scream of terror or noise of destruction produced a new startled reaction and a wave of existential fear. The vivid scene during the time the officers were held hostage would come back after their release. In keeping with the PTSD criteria, any association with the riot would bring back thoughts and feelings experienced inside the penitentiary.
In regard to the DSM physiological reactions criteria: during their capture, the guards reported a variety of physical reactions to their state of fear and helplessness. Almost all experienced dry mouths and insomnia; most were unaware even of the need for sleep. None were hungry. Those who were physically harmed reported that their bodies felt numb. As you know, one of the DSM criteria is feelings of detachment. Thus, this detachment process appears to be starting even during the traumatic event.
Also, regarding sensory input overload, all the hostages described their mental conditions as dazed or in a state of shock. While they were being rescued, two of the older guards, who knew the prison well, did not know how they got out.
Fear and helplessness produced a pseudo-rational state whereby the hostage responded unquestioningly to any command. As an example, one hostage, who was released during the riot, turned around and almost reentered the penitentiary when an official on the outside told him to go back.
Online Continuing Education QUESTION
7: What produces a pseudo-rational state whereby the hostage responded unquestioningly
to any command? To select and enter your answer go to CEU Test.
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